AUSTIN (KXAN) — Electronic scooter company Lime is at least one scooter company set to receive a notice of violation after numerous electronic scooters were discovered submerged in Lady Bird Lake.
Local anglers Matt Mellor and Teddy Hall were out fishing when they noticed up to 10 scooters, from various companies, in one area of the lake and up to six in another part. Mellor, who reached out to KXAN, expressed concerns over the hazards the submerged scooters could present.
Scooters were seen along the walking trail, in addition to at Red Bud Isle dog park.
"This is a very serious situation. These scooters hold 10-pound batteries full of acid that will destroy the water, fisheries and everything we have built," Mellor said. "All of it will be gone if these batteries leak."
Austin citizen Daniel Saltus pulling a submerged e-scooter out of the water. Saltus does contract work for Bird and Lime collecting scooters, but he said he's removing scooters for the health of the river, not for money.
Daniel Saltus, an Austin resident, headed out to Red Bud Isle on Lady Bird Lake in his kayak Thursday morning to remove electric scooters dumped in the lake. He had seen the video Mellor posted to social media.
Saltus is a contract employee who estimates he's picked up around 2,000 scooters for Bird and Lime. He went out to Lady Bird Lake Thursday. Not for money, but because he said it broke his heart to see videos of the scooters underwater.
"Keeping the water clean here in Austin is something that's important to me and to my mother. She's a volunteer water quality monitor with the LCRA," Saltus explained.
He worried about the lithium batteries contaminating the Colorado River, which Austin relies on. While the origin of the scooters in the lake is unclear, Saltus believes someone dumped them off the bridge which passes through Red Bud Isle.
"There are serious environmental repercussions here and I don't think people understand that when they're trying to do some vigilantism by trying to stick it to the company and throw them in the river, they're not thinking more than one minute ahead and we shouldn't all suffer for that."
Saltus only found one scooter Thursday morning: a Lime scooter which was totally covered in mud and inoperable when he hoisted it out in his kayak. The scooter was encrusted with invasive zebra mussels which have spread through the Austin area in the past two years.
"It was a struggle pulling it out, you could tell watching him they weigh maybe 30 pounds I think," said Jim Saltus, Daniel Saltus' dad who came by to help.
Daniel Saltus said that he doesn't think the solution is getting rid of scooters, which he believes play an important role in Austin's changing transportation network.
But he does hope the companies operating Austin's scooters act proactively to curb their environmental impact and to send a strong message to riders not to dump their products. Saltus suggested there may be a few practical fixes that would make salvaging dumped scooters easier too.
"Maybe some floatation devices on these scooters, if they didn't sink, if they floated, problem solved," he said.
At the same time Saltus was pulling that scooter out of the river, the Austin Watershed Protection Department's enforcement happened to show up as well. The city department was alerted to the scooters by KXAN and other media outlets who called them.
The watershed protection department has responded to around 15 dumped scooters in total since electric scooters have been on the market in Austin, but this is the first one that has needed to be hoisted out of the water.
Patrick Kelly, an environmental compliance specialist senior with the Watershed Protection Department, explained that Lime will be sent a notice of violation now that this scooter has been found. But the department will need to investigate more to determine what happens next for Lime and other companies. Kelly noted that in the video on social media which showed scooters in the water, there appeared to be around 10 scooters.
"They are a pollutant whether the battery is leaking or not. It could pose an issue," Kelly said. "But all the same, even if it's not leaking, its still considered trash and dumping in the waterways."
With only one accounted for, Kelly said he will reach out to Lime for help tracking down others. It is currently unclear how the scooters got in the water or who put them there.
"I can't necessarily assign fault, all I can do is assign responsibility. Ultimately from our position, it's the scooter company is responsible because again it's their scooter," he said.
Kelly explained that the city leaves it up to the scooter companies to pick up the scooters, rather than use city resources and tax dollars to do so. "You know it's their mess, so they have to clean it up. We hold them accountable."
According to Ryan Hebrink, the program manager for pollution prevention and reduction with the Watershed Protection Department, the most concerning part about the dumped scooters is the danger they pose to aquatic wildlife and to humans who use the water for recreation. He said that as long as the lithium battery doesn't explode on the scooters, the water quality impact of these scooters is negligible.
Mary Vo, of Austin's Transportation Department, explained that under their current protocol when a dockless vehicle is spotted in a waterway, ATD notifies the company and that company is "required to retrieve it immediately."
Vo explained that if the unit is too far in the water or too far from shore, Austin Fire Department may be called in to help and the company may have to pay extra.
She said that the city may have to take action against companies if their data shows that specific company's units are "repeatedly and disproportionately" showing up in Austin waterways.
Vo noted that it is a criminal offense to purposefully dispose of dockless vehicles in waterways and anyone who dumps the scooters may be cited if they are caught.
ATD relies on residents to report these issues so that they can start the process of addressing them.
If you see a scooter in an Austin waterway, you are asked to call Austin WPD's 24-hour hotline at (512) 974-2550.
"I'm very worried with more and more scooters as they show up in Austin, how many are going to show up in the river," Saltus said. He plans to continue kayaking around the lake looking for more scooters. While he said doesn't expect to be paid by Lime, he said he wouldn't mind if they threw him a couple bucks for helping out.
KXAN reached out to Lime and while they wouldn't comment on the specifics of this incident, they encourage people to treat the scooters with respect and to report if they see someone throwing scooters in waterways.
KXAN reached out to Uber who operates the JUMP scooters, Travis Considine, communications manager for Uber Texas said:
“Once notified, our local team promptly removed the scooter from Lady Bird Lake and it has been removed from our fleet.”
KXAN reached out to Bird, another scooter operator in Austin. While none of the rescued scooters so far appear to be Bird scooters, a spokesperson from Bird said:
When Bird vehicles are vandalized or thrown into lakes, it's like breaking windows in your own neighborhood. We hope that when people see available Birds, they are mindful of friends and neighbors who rely on these vehicles to get to work on time or make it to their next appointment. We encourage people in communities to report any incidents of vandalism to Bird, or irresponsible behavior on Birds, to local authorities and to the company. Bird investigates all reports of vandalism and takes appropriate measures, including working with law enforcement and removing people from our platform."
This news comes on the heels of much recent talk about scooter guidelines and where they should and should not be allowed. The Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail does not allow them, the University of Texas at Austin recently instituted several new regulations for their use on campus and the city of New Braunfels announced a full temporary ban on services utilizing motor-assisted scooters and electric bicycles.